How SC gubernatorial candidates plan to address rising crime in the state

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Published: Oct. 21, 2022 at 7:37 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Two of the candidates vying to lead South Carolina for the next four years say they have the plan that will keep South Carolinians safe.

The gubernatorial election this November comes as violent crime has been on the rise in the state, with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division reporting the number of murders in 2020, 552, are a 30-year high, according to data from its most recent statewide crime report.

Both Republican Gov. Henry McMaster and former Democratic Congressman Joe Cunningham have outlined their ideas to boost public safety ahead of voters heading to the polls.

Cunningham said crime has been rising while McMaster has been in charge, so he believes McMaster should take responsibility.

But sheriffs who back McMaster said he is not to blame, instead putting the fault with policies they say are failing to keep violent offenders from committing more crimes.

McMaster rolled out his public safety proposals during an event in which 32 South Carolina sheriffs, including six Democrats, and 10 solicitors announced they are endorsing his re-election.

His ideas include increasing penalties for people illegally possessing guns and eliminating bond for violent and repeat offenders. On Friday, he ordered the South Carolina Department of Insurance to investigate bail bondsmen who fail to report a criminal defendant’s non-compliance with court-ordered bond conditions.

The Republican governor also wants to expand the list of violent crimes that prohibit someone from permanently possessing a gun if they are convicted.

“I believe those steps will help us ensure safety for the men, women, and children of South Carolina,” McMaster said.

The governor is also seeking to add more requirements and transparency to the process of selecting magistrate judges, who are responsible for setting bail, issuing warrants, and presiding over certain criminal trials.

While the governor technically appoints these judges, state senators are the ones who hold the power, nominating magistrates in their county, and the governor cannot remove them once the Senate has confirmed them.

“Magistrate judges must be required to be licensed attorneys in good standing with the bar, certified to practice law in the courtroom, and they should be screened publicly by the state Senate prior to confirmation. Also, state senators should be required to cast a public, recorded vote on each magistrate’s confirmation,” McMaster said of his proposal.

Cunningham, meanwhile, is calling for judges to be elected by voters, instead of chosen by legislators.

South Carolina is one of just two states that select judges in that way.

“We need to have, in my opinion, nonpartisan election of judges, to ensure safety, to ensure fairness, and to make sure they’re held accountable. Right now, they’re not,” Cunningham said.

The Democratic candidate wants South Carolina to expand background checks for purchasing guns, close the so-called “Charleston loophole,” which can allow people to obtain firearms if their background check takes too long, and put more money into hospital- and community-based programs that prevent and stop violence.

Cunningham also believes his plan to legalize marijuana would assist in reducing crime.

“That’s the difference between myself and Gov. McMaster,” Cunningham said. “He wants to lock up our veterans for using marijuana. I want to legalize marijuana to give law enforcement the opportunity to go after those violent criminals and put their resources and prioritize their resources on violent offenders.”

Most, if not all, of both candidates’ proposals, would require the support of the state legislature.

Cunningham pointed to his one term on Capitol Hill when two of his bills were passed in a divided Congress and signed into law by former President Donald Trump, a Republican.

“That’s the kind of leadership it takes to get things done, to get things across the finish line, to provide real change for people, and that’s what people in South Carolina are looking for,” Cunningham said.

McMaster noted his proposals have the backing of the sheriffs and solicitors who have endorsed his campaign but said, ultimately, change would be dependent on the desires of South Carolinians.

“If the people of our state understand and believe that there’s a better way, then it’ll happen, but it’ll take the people,” the governor said.

South Carolina’s in-person early voting period begins Monday, with Election Day to follow on Nov. 8.

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